Wednesday, February 27, 2008


“Fashion is empty”

Probably sums up my musings towards fashion on a previous blog entry: HERE

This produced a lot of reactions from people I know (and don’t know), but the most interesting reactions would be from two young talented fashion designers, upon reading what I wrote, wrote their own reactions against and to/for it.
I actually found it endearing that they felt so compelled to write their own essays on it.

Read Mara Reyes’ essay: HERE

Read Alice Sarmiento’s essay: HERE

Interesting as their essays were, I must clarify on certain issues I had said.

First, in what way do I mean by Fashion?
Fashion, by definition, changes constantly. The changes might even proceed more rapidly than in most other fields of human activity (thought, language, etc). However, I was talking more about fashion as the negative embodiment of capitalism (it results in waste and encourages people to buy things unnecessary) and its relationship with the human condition of slavishly following these ephemeral trends; which I find so appalling.

So I will not (and have not) talk(ed) about the other aspects of fashion, it’s sociological implications (it has enforced an entire nation to uniformity when it made use of Mao Suits as the national uniform of Mainland China); and it’s constant change that contributes to diversity and identity (which appeals more to the youth’s desire to experience “new” and “interesting” things, and the sense to belong somewhere -- to quote the 70s gay icon, Quentin Crisp: “Fashion is what you adopt when you don’t know who you are.”)

Second, the use of the word “enterprise” (I had meant as the shorter term for “free enterprise” or capitalism) might have been an inappropriate word. Yes, fashion is a global enterprise worth billions of dollars and hundreds of thousands of painstakingly invested man-hours. However, I wasn't really talking about the global “business of building and killing trends” which I deliberately skipped in my previous entry. The two reaction essays provide interesting points of view towards this omission; and both essays are worth noting.

Claiming that fashion as an “empty enterprise”, can easily be judged by face value. I would like to expound on that. But to further our understanding on this, we should focus on the adjective that basically defines the two words: “empty”.

Everything we wear (be it clothes or just masks/personas we wear to deal with our daily social lives) can be considered as “extensions of the self”. Why do we need to feel and look good? Why do we need to be vain? That is because that is human nature, to desire and to want, to be part of something (or not be part of anything – but being not part of anything is already being part of something by logic, in math they call it the “null set”) and etc, etc.
There is nothing wrong with all that. But I find there must be something wrong when someone becomes enslaved by all these things. And fashion has a strong effect on most of our follies (because it is a combination of most of the basic needs and wants as human beings: clothing, identity, a sense of belonging, expression, vanity, social factors, and the like); and can enslave anybody as easy as alcohol or drugs. We spend lots of money to fulfill this need (when it’s going beyond what is needed), but we don’t really need too, but we do.

Now why did I say it is empty? Because at the end, does all this matter? Is it meaningful? I don’t know, but I’d like to think that it doesn’t mean anything, except I’d like to see it as mere means to satisfy some of my needs and to understand and express some of my self and experiences in this world. It is the same thing with mathematics or gravity, or say even god. Math, gravity, and god are all important to people even though they are just vital concepts in a conceptual framework, and has no real connection to the world we live in. Math is just a bunch of numbers that have nothing to do with the things in the world, except to aid us to further our understanding of our experiences to calculate yet again theoretical stuff (parabolas, density, force, etc), things that we don’t even see but we assume that they are there, like gravity or god. Because it helps us understand things and our experiences in the world, BETTER. They are logical fictions, or fictional truths. As puzzling as this Jean-Luc Godard quote: “Not a just image, just an image.”

Now, going back to fashion, combine all these ideas then make ourselves victims and let’s ride on the billion-dollar capitalist vehicle that changes trends faster than human thought, and at a gargantuan level! It sure sounds tempting and personally I think I would jump on it, but I'd jump as someone who likes fashion and not someone who worships it. Hence, I say it is an “empty enterprise”, because it does not grow into something meaningful other than to satisfy ourselves (and others who produce these needs for us.)

Lastly, towards the ethical notes: What has fashion have to do with all the poor?
Some have argued that fashion contributes to economic growth, through the provision of jobs from designers to seamstresses, etc. Providing jobs is one thing, but I’m not talking about a clothing industry but about the business of setting trends that is inevitable of its demise. But then again, maybe it can have something to do with the poor, and that there might be theoretical models that discuss that. However, I don't know, nor am I am well-informed about that.

But most importantly, the issue I would like to focus on is the predicament of human choice. Who cares if someone spends 400 dollars on a shirt when they could have fed a miserable African baby? Then again who cares about feeding a miserable African baby when they could have bought a 400 dollar shirt?

This is entirely up to the individual. Regardless of how ethical one would want to be, this does not prove anything. It still is, human choice, error or not.

That at the end of the day, fashion, very much like money can NEVER bring us happiness.
BUT we do like to keep a lot of it around, so we can choose our kind of misery.

-- Tengal